Making sense of Maltese traffic management
Driving in Malta will never be a pleasant experience because of the high density of cars on our roads. By couldn’t we make this essential everyday function less frustrating than it is? Some who are more inquisitive may ask what the economic cost of our chaotic traffic management system really is.
There are some quite positive developments including the upgrading of a few important arterial roads like the Mellieha bypass and the road leading from Paola to the airport. But even here one wonders why we still resort to antiquated work practices where the actual physical work on these projects is done in the limited daylight hours. It is perfectly feasible to carry out road works 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These road projects are taking far too long to be finished to the complete inconvenience and frustration of drivers.
The standards of driving in Malta are not getting any better. It is becoming evident that more drivers persist in using their mobile phones when driving and the vigilance of traffic wardens to check this abuse is glaringly insufficient. Other abuses by drivers include double parking with hazards lights flashing to give the semblance of legitimacy. Arriva bus drivers are increasingly adopting the bad habits of other drivers of heavy vehicles by bullying those driving smaller cars. Often they do not use the parking bays reserved for buses and block single lane roads for a few precious minutes while passengers board or alight. When they do use the parking bay, they often pull out of it without sufficient care.
I never understood the logic behind the practice of planting shrubs and trees on roundabouts and traffic islands leading to them. These shrubs often grow to a height that obstructs the line of vision of drivers approaching a roundabout. Most of our roundabouts have become dangerous blind corners. Drivers have to approach very cautiously and they need to manoeuvre out of risky situations because of concealed oncoming traffic.
To add insult to injury, whoever is responsible for the maintenance of these shrubs often cordons off parts of important traffic arteries to allow for the plants to be watered. Why can’t watering take place during the night and why can’t our gardening experts just plant flowering plants and avoid shrubs that grow higher than 30 centimetres?
But the most dangerous aspect of our traffic management system is the increasing practice of converting most of our arterial roads to single lane thoroughfares. The logic behind this practice revolves around the need to calm traffic flows and discourage over-speeding. But imagine the chaos that could be created when an accident completely blocks a road with a single lane in one direction. How can an ambulance get to the actual accident spot unless a helicopter is used to airlift the injured?
With the number of slow moving heavy vehicles using our roads it is a nightmare for workers trying to get to their place of work while driving behind some old and overloaded concrete mixer or a horse-drawn cab (karozzin) on one of our single-lane roads. If it takes every driver an extra 15 minutes to get to his or her place of work because of these avoidable bottlenecks, one can make an easy calculation of the economic cost of having to deal with this frustrating reality on a daily basis.
While a few of our arterial roads are getting some long-needed attention thanks to the availability of EU structural development funds, many other roads remain completely unfit for purpose. Not only do these roads make driving unpleasant and often dangerous, but they also burn expensive holes in the pockets of drivers who have to pay good money to repair the damage caused by these unsuitable roads.
Once again, the economic cost of importing car parts that are only needed because of the bad state of many of our roads is often ignored by those responsible to maintain our roads to European rather than third world standards.
My final gripe is about public transport. After a string of public transport reforms that included taxi and bus services, I would say that from the perspective of users transport services have only improved marginally if at all. Arriva remains an inefficient service provider that has not resolved the problem of heavy use of private cars.